Date with destiny

April 29, 2009

This morning could have a significant effect on the destiny of the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship, as an increasingly competitive McLaren team face the World Motorsport Council on charges of  deliberately misleading the race stewards of the Australian Grand Prix.  Their guilt, of course, is already established.  The role of the WMC sitting today is to decide on what punishment, if any, this warrants.  McLaren International’s actions thus far – sacking team manager Dave Ryan, a series of public apologies including one from Lewis Hamilton plus a private letter sent to the FIA, chairman Ron Dennis standing down from his Formula 1 responsibilities and the team’s decision to stand silent at the hearing – all point, in my mind, to a team who has a nasty suspicion that it will not merely be a slap on the wrist.

The tendency of such hearings is for their outcomes to be representative of a team’s general conduct over a longer period than just for the incident alone.  With the cannily-named Spygate saga still fresh in people’s minds, this could have come at a better time for McLaren.  However, it must also be remembered that the team paid an astronomical fine for that transgression – $100 million – plus countless more millions in lost prize money for their disqualification from that year’s constructor’s championship.

Given all of this, plus the novel nature of the infringement, has left most commentators and experts very much in the dark as to what will happen this time.  The WMC has almost limitless powers for censure.  McLaren could escape with a warning, but just as easily could find themselves with a blanket ban from this year’s championship, or longer.

My own feeling has mellowed somewhat since my piece written on the 3rd of this month, with the subject still fresh in my mind.  I ended that article with the words: “The FIA say they reserve the right to punish the team further for this transgression.  I hope that they throw the bloody book at them.”  I maintain the view that the team deserved to be punished.  However, I now question the value of too swingeing a judgement.  McLaren’s actions were indefensible, but they have been caught and the wrong it caused – in terms of the results of the Australian race – has been righted.  They have also subsequently admitted their culpability and apologised – although I can’t help but feel that their scarcely-credible second denial of any wrongdoing to the Malaysian Grand Prix stewards a week later may well come back to haunt them.

Toto Roche’s Flag being a completely anal project, it would be remiss of me to not look back at previous similar incidences and their outcomes, before speculating on what McLaren’s fate might be and what I think it should be.

1984: Tyrrell

The accusation: Tyrrell Grand Prix were caught with traces of lead in their water tank after Martin Brundle’s car finished second in the Detroit Grand Prix.  It transpired that the team – hampered by the weight limit of the time, being the sole non-turbo engined car in the field – had been topping up their water tank late on in races with water filled with lead pellets to bring the car up to weight, having run the majority of the way under the limit.  The FIA charged the team with virtually everything it could throw at it.  The hydrocarbon traces in the water tank could be interpreted as the illegal use of an additional fuel cell, we were told.  No matter that the team – who as the sole remaining Cosworth outfit were a perpetual thorn in the side of the turbocharged remainder, in terms of Ken Tyrrell’s veto in Formula One Constructors’ Association meetings – scarcely needed their full fuel quota to finish the races with their frugal normally-aspirated engines.  Particularly as the team could also be charged with illegally running underweight, or using unsecured ballast.

The outcome: It was very much considered a fait accompli by many, an act of vengeance following pressure by the FOCA hoardes against a plucky outsider.  Nevertheless, the fact remained that Tyrrell had broken the rules.  Whether or not the punishment fitted the crime, however, is another matter.  Tyrrell, found guilty, were banned from competing in the balance of that season’s World Championship – three races – plus had all of the results they had gained up to that point in 1984 rescinded.

1994: Benetton and McLaren

The accusation: Benetton Ford and McLaren Peugeot were both accused of using banned electronic aids at that year’s  ill-fated San Marino Grand Prix.  Such gadgets, which had been banned at the end of 1993 with a promise of “mindblowing” sanctions for those caught using them in 1994, would have given any team a significant advantage as the rest of the teams got back to grips with passive suspension and no traction control.  Benetton and McLaren were specifically accused of using fully automated launch control devices at the start, but rumours darkly circulated about automatic gearboxes and traction control as well, particularly in light of Benetton’s stellar start to the 1994 season.

The outcome: Both Benetton and McLaren were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.  Both teams later received stern penalties for their drivers after trangressions in the races.  Both Michael Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen served race suspensions, with Schumacher sitting out both the Italian and Portuguese races for ignoring a black flag at the British Grand Prix.  This was interpreted by some as a disproportionate response, a way to punish them for both offences via the back door.

2005: BAR

The accusation: BAR Honda were caught using a supplementary fuel tank at the San Marino Grand Prix.  Once this tank was drained by scrutineers after the race, the car was found to be underweight.  The team were accused of illegally using fuel as ballast.

The outcome: BAR were found guilty of the charge.  Jenson Button was disqualified from his 3rd place at Imola, plus the team were suspended from the subsequent Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix.

Where, then, does this leave McLaren?  The BAR verdict in 2005 shows that the powers that be have no compunction in depleting a 20-car field to just 18 runners, if they think the crime warrants it.  Such sporting concerns as ‘the show’ are secondary, in other words, to sporting concerns such as probity of conduct.  Like Tyrrell in 1984, there is also no technological argument to be made, no potential loopholes to be explored, no questions of guilt or innocence.

In such circumstances, it’s hard to not see some sort of stiff penalty being handed down.  However, with the $100 million fine probably still not yet even entirely spent, McLaren’s conduct since should – and probably will – be some mitigation.  If it were my decision, I would ban the team for the next race, plus make them run for the next 2 years with a further suspended ban which made it clear that any further similar infraction would result in a total disqualification from that year’s World Championship.  What I suspect will happen is a two race ban and another substantial fine.  Let’s see.

The most extraordinary aspect to last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix was the closeness of the field.  Never before in the history of Formula 1 have such tiny margins covered the entire grid from front to back.  As such, it’s making it easier than usual to spot which drivers are on top of their game and which drivers are struggling.

I started watching Grand Prix racing in earnest from this point in the season – round 4 – 15 years and sixteen seasons ago.  The grid that day, the Monaco Grand Prix a fortnight after the death of Ayrton Senna, was a faintly surreal sight in the context of last weekend’s.  At the end of the Q1 session, a scant 1.5 seconds covered 20 cars.  In Monaco 1994, the same margin more or less accounted for the front row, Michael Schumacher winning his first ever F1 pole from Mika Häkkinen’s McLaren Peugeot.  Schumacher’s 1m18.560 lap was 5.5 seconds ahead of the 20th car, Olivier Panis’ Ligier Renault.  Meanwhile, Paul Belmondo, the 24th and last qualifier in the dismal Pacific Ilmor was 18.337 seconds away, 10.8 shy indeed of his own teammate in 23rd place.  All the more remarkable, considering that at the time, this was considered progress in itself, the field having been closed up by a raft of technical regulations at the end of the 1993 campaign.

Nowadays is perhaps the toughest time ever to be a Formula 1 driver in terms of scrutiny of your performance.  Not only did being a tenth off your teammate’s qualifying time – whilst far from ideal, you should be ahead of him – not used to constitute a crisis, it would also make little difference to your team’s overall fortunes.  Now it can be the difference between a podium finish or spending Sunday afternoon battling outside the points.  It is little wonder that already drivers like Nelson Piquet, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Bourdais are nervously editing their CV’s.

Brawn GP are perhaps the team least troubled by this.  Whilst their car seems to have been caught in terms of outright pace by Toyota and particularly Red Bull Racing, in race trim the BGP001 seems to offer its drivers a platform to deliver consistently good results.  Still, Jenson Button will be feeling happier than Rubens Barrichello, who, although scoring points in every round, hasn’t joined the Briton on the podium since the opening weekend in Melbourne.  Button drove a wonderful race yet again, by far his best of the season thus far.  His pass early in the race on Lewis Hamilton – at the end of the straight and against a car with the same engine but with KERS – was truly and deservedly a race winner.

Red Bull‘s drivers, too, seem to be pretty evenly matched.  In terms of pace, at least, as again Mark Webber’s luck deserts him at the least opportune moments.  Nevertheless, Sebastian Vettel is driving beautifully at the moment and the RB5 car, still without a magical diffuser, looks to be another addition to Adrian Newey’s hall of fame after some quieter years.

Toyota‘s drivers may prove a little more under the cosh.  The Toyota was very much the car to have in Bahrain, yet neither Jarno Trulli or Timo Glock could deliver on Sunday.  The team have blamed the strategy for this one, but many more weekends like that and it will make people start to wonder.  Personally, I’ve been wondering about Jarno Trulli for years.  Few people are as quick as him in qualifying, but come Sunday all the push, drive and aggression seem to have left him.  Third place was much less than the team deserved.  All this bitching bitched, though, he very much had the measure of Glock this weekend, and added his first ever Grand Prix fastest lap.

McLaren‘s progress continues.  The car itself seems to have found over a second in terms of lap time in the last two races, an exceptional achievement in a field covered by little more than 150% of that.  Lewis Hamilton is driving better than I have ever seen him, for less reward than he’s ever had in his whole racing career.  If the World Motorsport Council are kind to McLaren this week – about which, more on Wednesday – and the team are allowed to continue unfettered in 2009, I expect Lewis to be on the podium by mid-season and a race winner again before the year is out.  Kovalainen continues to be a slim margin behind Hamilton in everything he does, but the penalty for this is proving increasingly severe.

Ferrari finally managed to scrape enough bits together to get a car into the points, plus both cars in the Q3 top ten shootout – a feat which has so far eluded McLaren in 2009.  However, in the race their bad luck continued, Massa enduring a troubled run and more Ferrari KERS gremlins.  Kimi Räikkönen, meanwhile, kept his head down and delivered a drive which left you in little doubt that it was the best that car could have achieved.  The problem is the horizontal nature of the team’s development thus far, which will be at least confronted, if not remedied, by a major aero update for Barcelona on May 10th.

Renault, too, are in a position where their efforts at developing a recalcitrant car are being put in the shade somewhat by McLaren.  Fernando Alonso remains optimistic, which is not an unreasonable position given the team’s huge mid-season advances in 2008.  Nelson Piquet had his best weekend of 2009 thus far, making it to Q2 and finishing the race a handful of positions and a respectable 13 seconds behind his teammate.  I have a feeling, however, that the decision to replace him will already have been taken and that the onus is on the Brazilian to do something outstanding enough in the next X races to make the decision be untaken.  A tall order in a difficult car against such a distinguished team leader.

Toro Rosso kept it on the straight and narrow again, but this, the first race of the season without safety cars or rain to mix things up, is probably the truest indication of their true form so far in 2009.  Of the two Sebastiens, Bourdais will be the happier.  Under pressure to perform against his promising rookie teammate Buemi, the Frenchman comprehensively outraced him on Sunday… although again failed to outqualify him after mechanical troubles in morning practice.

Force India, too, probably found themselves in a more representative position.  However, the team must surely be heartened by some of the flashes of genuine midfield pace the team’s new interim aerodynamic package was able to give them.  It’s testimony to the skill of the people they have there that they have been able to produce any updates as quickly as they have, that they seem to be a step in the right direction is an extra bonus.  Their drivers, Fisichella and Sutil, finished line astern in 15th and 16th places, a clear indication that the car hasn’t much left to give at the moment.  However, they are still looking like they are capable of giving some big names a hard time at any point of the weekend.

Williams bold march backwards continues at apace.  Nico Rosberg was again fast in practice but faded away in the race, having initially made a nuisance of himself towards the lower end of the top 8.  He eventually missed out on a point by a shade over 5 seconds.  Kazuki Nakajima, meanwhile, succumbed to bad oil pressure – the race’s only retirement and Nakajima’s third DNF in four starts this year.  Some day in 2009, Williams will have a eureka moment and finally wring some sustained pace from their car on race day.  Is Nakajima the man to be able to exploit it?  He has much to prove.

Last and very much last, BMW.  Their weekend was a plain and simple nightmare.  Finishing 18th and 19th, after myriad problems in the race including KERS issues and the loss of front wings left, right and (mainly) centre, would be bad enough for a team who qualified on pole here 12 months ago.  However, the fact that, based on practice and qualifying pace, they’d have fared little better with an unhampered run is much more of a concern.  BMW have got it very wrong somewhere along the line in their 2009 concept.  Improvements will have to be made quickly, or else the season will be a write-off and 2010 made the focus.  For an outfit who went into this year with huge preparation and significant confidence, it must be a winding blow.  Nick Heidfeld’s breaking of Michael Schumacher’s record of 24 consecutive race finishes will be little consolation: Schumacher’s 24 were all top three results.  Heidfeld brought up his 25th with 19th and last place.

Bahrain and the BBC

April 23, 2009

Sakhir is the next venue for the Formula 1 circus, for the fifth year in a row.  A pioneer race for the Middle East in Grand Prix racing, Bahrain will be joined by Abu Dhabi this season as F1 looks to find any available money teat which is still producing.  Bahrain has, nevertheless, been a fine venue for the sport and tends to produce interesting – if not necessarily thrilling – Grands Prix.

To be completely trite and obvious about it, this race marks a line in the sand for all the teams, the last event before the European season kicks off in Barcelona next month.  This, then, probably represents the last race for the current order in the sport.  From May 10th onward, expect to see some more established names make inroads as their car developments come thick and fast whilst the diffuser gang plateau.

Still, they will have it all to do to catch Brawn GP.  Regardless of last week’s result, the BGP001 car is still the class of the field.  Tripped up in strategic terms by the rain in Shanghai, the team are much less likely to be so afflicted in the desert and go into the race as favourites.  Their chief competition, I expect, will come from Toyota and Red Bull.  I also have a sneaking feeling that Ferrari will return to the points at this race, or at the very least be running there when their car breaks.  Felipe Massa is a Bahrain specialist, whilst the team spent significant time testing at Sakhir during the winter break.

Williams will also be looking to show well and make their practice pace come alive in official sessions for the first time in 2009.  Of the three double diffuser teams, they are perhaps the outfit with the most to gain from the return to Europe and the factories after the flyaway beginning to the season.

Of the teams making inroads, I expect McLaren to be the best of the rest.  The team seem to be making steady progress, rather than a fuss about how unfair it all is, the chosen method of some of their rivals.  Bahrain also features a few decent length straights where their KERS system should do serious damage to their competition come race day.

I don’t see much else in the way of change on the horizon until Spain.  It will, however, be interesting to see what progress Renault – on the front row in Shanghai’s dry qualifying, remember, albeit with a light car – have made.  On the driver front, I’ll have a gimlet eye on Nelsinho Piquet again… he really needs to make it into the same qualifying session as Alonso and quickly… and will also be watching out for the nascent Sebastien Buemi to see if he can continue his good work so far.

My rubbish and useless prediction:

Pole position: Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes)

Race result: 1. Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes); 2. Sebastian Vettel (red Bull Renault); 3. Timo Glock (Toyota)

The BBC

Bahrain will also be the fourth round for the BBC’s new coverage of the Grand Prix racing.  I still find myself instinctively looking at the ITV listings to see what time programmes start, which in itself says a lot for the majority of the Beeb’s coverage.  This is not to denigrate it at all, however.  ITV did an excellent job in its 11 years with the sport.  The greatest tribute that they can be paid is that Auntie have seen little reason to change much of the presentational format.  Personnel-wise, the BBC seem to have chosen wisely.  I never subscribed to the James Allen hate-in, feeling he was just experiencing the fallout for the terrible if unavoidable crime of not being Murray Walker.  Jonathan Legard is no better or worse than Allen, but he’s still not Murray Walker, so I expect to start to hear the rumblings of discontent soon.  Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz came over from the commercial darkside, and are both excellent aquisitions.  The last of the mainstream commentary team, Lee McKenzie, has also slotted in seamlessly, which, I say again, is all you could really ask from them.

On the presentation side, Jake Humphrey still looks like a bizarrely stretched 12-year old boy, but it’s fairly obvious that he isn’t just there for his yoof appeal and that he has a passion for the subject.  He seems to be the chief concession to a more DYNAMIC approach that the BBC have taken – he walks up and down the pitlane whilst talking, where Steve Rider used to stand still.  Alongside him, David Coulthard is yet to really cut loose as a pundit, but I reckon it’ll be worth the wait.  Eddie Jordan is more of a question mark.  His ex-team owner and I-used-to-run-that-driver schtick is already wearing a little thin.  However, there’s no denying Jordan – who has huge experience as both a driver and an owner – has the potential to make a significant contribution.  Even if he doesn’t, he at least knows how to speak English properly, which makes him a step forward from Mark Blundell.

So, the big change’s biggest service to the viewer has been to remain the same.  What is noteworthy, though, is the vast amount of additional coverage the BBC has been able to provide, through its interactive TV and online streaming.  Every minute of the weekend’s action is now covered, the majority of it at inhospitable times on Friday mornings.  However, if you can sneak away and have yet to do so, watching one of the 90-minute free practice sessions is well worth it.  Not for the on-track action, which is as relevant to the TV viewer as an exotic screensaver, but for the soundtrack.  The BBC’s second-string – i.e. Radio Five – commentary team sit in and are doing a really exceptional job.  David Croft is a wily one, knowledgable but with a nice line in mischievous devil’s advocacy.  He is usually joined by the outstanding Anthony Davidson, truly the heir apparent to Martin Brundle’s mic.  Also on hand will be the vastly knowledgable Maurice Hamilton, recently joined by another seasoned figure from the paddock, Ian Phillips – formerly the editor of Autosport magazine and of Jordan Grand Prix, now employed by Force India.  All four bring their years of experience to bear with considerable aplomb – entertaining, controversial, wry, observant and educational.  Highly recommended and, as with so much of the BBC coverage so far, available later on on the BBC Sport website.

Slow starters

April 22, 2009

There has been much discussion in the press, on the broadcast media and online about the dismal start to the Grand Prix season being endured by Ferrari.  This reaction is understandable given their almost monotonous level of success over the past decade, where they have won all but two Constructors’ Championship titles.  However, Ferrari are no real strangers to adversity, as you might expect from any team of a 59-year pedigree.  Previous fallow periods include the early 1990s – when the team went for nearly 4 full seasons without a race win – the early 1980s and the early 1970s, which culminated in a season of such lacklustreness in 1973 that the team often ran just one car for Jacky Ickx and didn’t even bother entering four of the the last six events.

The common uniting thread in all this, however, is that competitiveness has always returned.  In 1974, under new management with a new car and new drivers, Ferrari began a 6-year spell which yielded 3 drivers’ and 4 constructors’ championship titles.  The early 1980s saw a pair of dismal years immediately followed by two title-winning efforts for the team.  And the 1990s slump led to the construction of the Todt-Brawn-Byrne-Martinelli-Schumacher superteam who swept all before it in unprecedented style.

Ferrari’s problems this year seem to be related to grip, which a new aerodynamic package will be looking to address.  More of a concern must be their lack of reliability.  Previously bulletproof, Ferrari will be mindful of the old motor racing truism that it is easier to make a reliable car fast than it is to make a fast car reliable.  I think it’s fair inconceivable that the team will be in the doldrums for the whole of the 2009 season.  Felipe Massa particularly has demonstrated good speed in the races, only to be let down by his machinery, and their technical team is second to none.  The fact, however, remains that the team go into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix knowing that a failure to score any points for the fourth successive race at the start of a season will be a new low tidemark.

In the spirit of Toto Roche’s Flag, I have decided to take a look through the history books (literally, in this case), to look at Ferrari’s other bad starts to a Grand Prix season.

1993 After 3 events: 1 point (@ 0.167 points-per-start)

Ferrari were really in a hole in the early 1990s.  Their drivers – Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger – managed just a finish apiece in the first 3 races of 1993, with Berger taking the only point at the season opener at Kyalami.  In the July of this year, Jean Todt was brought in as team manager after a success in a similar role at Peugeot motorsport. 

What happened next: Fortunes picked up slightly as the season wore on, but the team only managed a final total of 28 points, good enough for 4th place.  The high point were three podium finishes – two for Alesi and one for Berger – with a best of 2nd in Italy.

1992 After 3 events: 5 points (0.833)

At the end of a disappointing 1991 season, where the team failed to win a race a season after fighting for the drivers’ championship, lead driver Alain Prost was made the scapegoat and sacked for unflattering comments about his car’s handling in the press.  Lacking any real experience or direction, Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli struggled on as best they could with an unreliable and slow car.  Their haul of points all came at the third round in Brazil as the cars finished 4th and 5th, after retirements for both drivers in the first two races. 

What happened next: The team again finished 4th, with just 21 points to their name.  Alesi managed two podium finishes again – including one in the fourth race.  Capelli, however, struggled badly and was dropped for the last two races, replaced by the none-more-successful Nicola Larini.

1986 After 3 rounds: 3 points (0.500)

Again, Ferrari made a meal of things a year after a season where their lead driver challenged for the world crown.  In this instance, their points came from Stefan Johansson’s 4th place at the season’s 3rd round in Imola.  The problems were again twofold, with a slow and unreliable car. 

What happened next: Ferrari finished 4th with 33 points, Stefan Johansson’s four 3rd places and Michele Alboreto’s second in Austria the highlights.  Behind the scenes, major changes were afoot.  For 1987, Ferrari signed McLaren designer John Barnard, whose Guildford Technical Office built a car which won the final two races of the 1987 season in the hands of Gerhard Berger.

1981 After 3 rounds: 0 points

1980 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Ferrari began the 1980s in a terrible state.  Their 1980 season was a disaster, with defending World Champion Jody Scheckter scoring only 2 points all year and failing to qualify for the Canadian Grand Prix.  In his teammate Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari had the generation’s outstanding driver, but even he was unable to wring anything out of the dire 312T5, a best of two fifths and two sixths.  He faired a little better in 1981, now alongside Didier Pironi in place of the retired Scheckter.  The season started even more woefully, though.  In 1980, the team at least managed a 16th place finish in the first 3 rounds.  In 1981 the first 6 starts yielded not a single finish. 

What happened next: Thanks in the most part to the brilliance of Villeneuve, Ferrari won two races in 1981, both of them masterpieces of the art.  Villeneuve won the Monaco Grand Prix in the worst handling car in the field when his exceptional teammate Pironi struggled to even qualify the car.  He followed this up with his famous Spanish Grand Prix win at Jarama, where he successfully used his car’s one major façet – it’s straighline speed – to defend against attack from a queue of four faster cars.  Ferrari went on to win the Constructors’ Cup in 1982 and 1983, but it was not without a cost.  Villeneuve died in a qualifying crash early in the 1982 season, whilst Pironi’s season was ended prematurely – with the Frenchman leading the championship – after a terrifying leg-breaking shunt in practice for the German Grand Prix.  1980’s tally was 8 points and 10th place, with an improvement to 34 and 5th in 1981.

1970 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Ferrari were all out of sorts at the beginning of the 1970s, as the new Cosworth DFV engine was adopted by the majority of their rivals, leaving Ferrari’s V12 hopelessly heavy and antiquated.  Behind also in chassis development, the team cut their losses and only entered a single car for Jacky Ickx in the early rounds, but it failed to finish a single one. 

What happened next: Ferrari’s fortunes picked up hugely from mid-season, the team eventually finishing second with 52 points.  Drivers Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni racked up 4 wins, 5 pole positions and 8 fastest laps.  Their form was not sustained, however, as the introduction of Tyrrell’s first self-made car took all the honours for 1971.  By 1973 the team were in turmoil, leading to wholesale management changes and the appointment of Niki Lauda as lead driver.

1969 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Similarly to their 1970 season, Ferrari’s main problem in 1969 was the new DFV engine.  Their sole entrant, Chris Amon, failed to finish in any of the first 3 races.  What happened next: Ferrari scored just 7 points in1969, finishing equal bottom of the standings.  The highlight of their year was Amon’s 3rd place in the Dutch Grand Prix.

1964 After 3 rounds: 6 points

A slow start to the season, their sole points score coming from John Surtees’ 2nd place in round two. 

What happened next: After a slow first 4 rounds, Ferrari burst into life in the final 6 races of the season.  Finishing with at least one car on the podium of each of them, John Surtees 5 such finishes were enough to give him the drivers’ crown after the final race decider in Mexico.  Teammate Lorenzo Bandini also won a Grand Prix, at Austria, to go alongside Surtees’ two victories.  With a further 3 third places from Bandini, Ferrari also won their first Constructors’ Cup since 1961.

Since Red Bull Racing’s bold strut into the winners’ circle last Sunday morning, I have seen literally nobody ask the question: how many teams have now won a World Championship Grand Prix race?  Luckily, I’m always on hand to answer any such non-questions.  The answer is 30.

This is not completely straightforward, however.  The thirty ‘teams’ in question are in fact manufacturers or constructors.  It must be remembered of course that numbers 6 and 8 in the list – Cooper and Lotus – had their first Grand Prix successes courtesy of Rob Walker Racing’s privateer team, whilst 14 (Matra) scored all of their success thanks to Ken Tyrrell’s team’s stewardship at the track.  Tyrrell also won the first victory for March (number 15) in the year before he went solo and became number 16.  More recently, of course, it’s arguable that Toro Rosso’s maiden victory in Italy last autumn was in fact a success for Red Bull Racing, whose chassis the Italian team use.

Also complicating matters are issues such as family trees – the Red Bull Team bought the assets of Jaguar, who did the same to Stewart Grand Prix, race winners in their own right.  Brawn GP, too, have a complex past, with former race winning efforts from Honda and Tyrrell in their direct lineage.  Meanwhile, Lancia do not make the list, although their superb D50 car won several races after the outfit was forced to sell their stock to Ferrari, Juan Manuel Fangio winning the 1956 championship in a car badged as a Lancia-Ferrari.

With all this in mind, though, I have tried to present a balanced and considered list of the squads and cars that have won a Grand Prix in their own right.  Here it is, along with the race in which they first took the flag and the driver at the wheel.

1. Alfa Romeo (1950 British Grand Prix, Guiseppe Farina)
2. Ferrari (1951 British Grand Prix, José Frolian Gonzalez)
3. Maserati (1953 Italian Grand Prix, Juan Manuel Fangio)
4. Mercedes-Benz (1954 French Grand Prix, Juan Manuel Fangio)
5. Vanwall (1957 British Grand Prix, Tony Brooks/Stirling Moss)
6. Cooper (1958 Argentinian Grand Prix, Stirling Moss)
7. BRM (1959 Dutch Grand Prix, Jo Bonnier)
8. Lotus (1960 Monaco Grand Prix, Stirling Moss)
9. Porsche (1962 French Grand Prix, Dan Gurney)
10. Brabham (1964 French Grand Prix, Dan Gurney)
11. Honda (1965 Mexican Grand Prix, Richie Ginther)
12. Eagle (1967 Belgian Grand Prix, Dan Gurney)
13. McLaren (1968 Belgian Grand Prix, Bruce McLaren)
14. Matra (1968 Dutch Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart)
15. March (1970 Spanish Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart)
16. Tyrrell (1971 Spanish Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart)
17. Hesketh (1975 Dutch Grand Prix, James Hunt)
18. Penske (1976 Austrian Grand Prix, John Watson)
19. Wolf (1977 Argentinian Grand Prix, Jody Scheckter)
20. Ligier (1977 Swedish Grand Prix, Jacques Laffite)
21. Shadow (1977 Austrian Grand Prix, Alan Jones)
22. Renault (1979 French Grand Prix, Jean-Pierre Jabouille)
23. Williams (1979 British Grand Prix, Clay Regazzoni)
24. Benetton (1986 Mexican Grand Prix, Gerhard Berger)
25. Jordan (1998 Belgian Grand Prix, Damon Hill)
26. Stewart (1999 European Grand Prix, Johnny Herbert)
27. BMW Sauber (2008 Canadian Grand Prix, Robert Kubica)
28. Scuderia Toro Rosso (2008 Italian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel)
29. Brawn (2009 Australian Grand Prix, Jenson Button)
30. Red Bull Racing (2009 Chinese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel)

China 2009

April 20, 2009

I can’t remember the last time I saw less of a Formula 1 Grand Prix whilst my eyes were trained on it.  It’s reasonably rare to get a race like the one yesterday, where the rain is unrelenting and unchanging throughout, and the spray and lack of visibility was remarkable.  What it must have been like in the cars probably doesn’t bare thinking about, so it is testimony to the skills of the world’s twenty best racing drivers that there were so few accidents – especially considering that the race was the first wet running any of them had done in the entire weekend.  Particularly impressive, of course, was Sebastian Vettel.  Still not yet 22 years of age and twice a Grand Prix winner, we are surely watching the first steps of what will be a monumental career.

Red Bull had a dream weekend, all told.  Their car, so impressive in the wet all season, also excelled in the dry – although with fuel adjustment is still a little behind the Brawn on overall pace.  Significantly, of course, the team are yet to try a double-decker diffuser which, considering the man designing it will be Adrian Newey, is likely to make the car more competitive still.  I expect at least one Red Bull driver to be in championship contention right up until the end of the season.  As I have already mentioned, Vettel was brilliant in Shanghai, easily having the measure of all of his rivals and not making a mistake worth the name in impossible conditions.  Mark Webber always looked a step behind his teammate, but thoroughly deserved second place, his best result thus far in a Grand Prix.  With Red Bull’s car so fast and the diffuser still to come, it’s not hard to imagine that Webber may manage to break his Grand Prix duck some time this year.

Brawn looked a little out of sorts in China, but will be happy with third and fourth place in a difficult race.  Rubens Barrichello was impressive in qualifying but again lost out to Jenson Button on race day, Button’s smoothness really coming into its element.  Expect the white cars to go into Bahrain – where rain is very unlikely to trip them up – as favourites for the win again.

Third up were McLaren Mercedes, showing steady improvement all the time.  With new aerodynamic pieces, Lewis Hamilton got the car into the top 10 in qualifying, whilst the team’s KERS system has always made them a more competitive proposition on Sunday afternoons.  Hamilton was very racy indeed and provided a great deal of entertainment, but he overstepped the line too often, losing handfuls of time to spins and other excursions.  This allowed Heikki Kovalainen, who drove a rock steady race, to score his first points of the year.  As well as completing his first full racing laps.

Toyota were the first of the teams who had a really disappointing time.  Timo Glock drove a fine race in the circumstances, a poor qualifying plus a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change leaving him to come from 19th to finish 7th.  Jarno Trulli was the race’s first retirement after being hit from behind by Robert Kubica’s BMW.  It wasn’t much of a surprise, as Trulli seemed completely bereft of any confidence or speed on race day, which has been the story of his entire F1 career.  A big step forward will be required in Bahrain, as the team – under pressure from the boardroom to win some races – look to get the full advantage of their diffuser before the rest catch up.

Toro Rosso‘s weekend was largely helped by the fact they have the same car as Red Bull Racing.  However, their real ace was Sebastien Buemi, increasingly impressive in his debut season.  He already seems to have the measure of his namesake teammate Bourdais, whose resigned radio calls back to his pit after failing to get into Q2 are already becoming a highlight of my Saturdays in 2009.  This weekend, though, Buemi qualified the car 10th and raced strongly throughout – although he was lucky not to have had more damage when he ran into Sebastian Vettel’s rear wheel during the second safety car period.  His 8th place means he has scored points in 2 of his first three Grands Prix, and increasingly looks like he has the potential to be a coming man.

Renault had a strange weekend.  Using their new diffuser, Fernando Alonso put the car on the front row of the grid by running with a thimble’s worth of petrol.  A victory for the PR war, it nevertheless completely shagged his race in tactical terms, especially when the heavens opened.  His first pit stop taking place even before the safety car had pulled in at the start of the race and from then on it was damage limitation, so 9th place was fairly respectable, the best the car could do on the day.  The same cannot be said for Nelson Piquet’s weekend.  Although he had the mitigating circumstance of Alonso having all the latest updated parts on his car, Piquet qualified at the back again and did little to improve on this in the race.  He’s under serious pressure now.

Ferrari can sympathise with this, as an entire country is now demanding answers.  However, despite not having any aero updates and running without KERS, Massa undid a poor qualifying with a strong race.  It was another fine performance from a driver whose attitude is just as impressive as his skill at the wheel, and another demonstration of how far along he has come.  Massa was lying in a competitive and well-fueled 3rd place when his car succumbed to drowned electrics, and would have more than probably scored a podium finish.  With the car as troublesome as it is, it will be nice for the team to know that at least in Massa they have a part they can absolutely rely on.  Whether or not they feel the same about Kimi Räikkönen I do not know.  The 2007 champion started the weekend in resigned mood, more or less admitting that the 2009 title race’s goose was already cooked.  This is not the sort of thing Michael Schumacher would ever have said publically, and not the sort of thing the people working in the factory need to hear.  His performances on the track this weekend will have done little to dispel any of this gloom, either.  Three races in, no points scored.  Unless you count the ones scored by the Ferrari engine in the Toro Rosso.

BMW also have it all to do.  A miserable qualifying left the drivers in a vulnerable position, and duly both Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica spent the race being nerfed, nudged and punted from pillar to post, Kubica particularly spending a good half of a minute in the pits longer than he had intended.  The team’s work on the 2009 car does not, as it stands, seem to have paid off.  However, few would bet against such an organisation not being able to make positive steps forward, particularly as the car seems to have the potential to be competitive on the longer runs.

Force India would clamber over their own mothers for BMW’s problems, of course.  Their car looks down on grip compared to all of their rivals and the drivers spun more in dry practice than in the wet race.  Adrian Sutil again demonstrated a fine grasp on wet weather driving, as well as a fine line in bad luck, aquaplaning off with five laps to run when he looked to have 6th place – and Force India’s first ever points – in the bag.  This must be particularly agonising for the team, as they know such conditions are not particularly easy to rely on.  Fisichella continued to plug away in the second car, gaining his third successive finish.  If they could graft his reliability to Sutil’s speed, they could well have a recipe for some points at last this year.

Finally, a weekend to forget for Williams.  Like their engine supplier Toyota, Williams face a race against time to fully exploit their aerodynamic cleverness before everyone else catches up.  However, this weekend seemed to be a step back in all directions – although Nico Rosberg again topped the timesheets in a free practice session, this time on Saturday morning.  Kazuki Nakajima, however, spent much of the race facing the oncoming traffic, whilst Rosberg – uncompetitive and gambling late on with intermediate tyres – saw any chance of a point evapourate as the rains returned in earnest.

There’ll be a more considered look at the Chinese Grand Prix here later on, but Sebastian Vettel’s excellent win yesterday means he still has a 100% record of converting pole position into race victory.  On the whole, anybody who has taken pole for a World Championship Grand Prix has usually gone on to win one, whether from the front of the grid or not.  In the 59-year history of the championship, there are just nine drivers who saw off all their rivals in qualifying but never managed to do the same in the race.

Chris Amon (NZ) 5 pole positions (1968 Spain, Belgium, Netherlands; 1971 Italy; 1972 France)

The brilliant Amon, clearly the best Formula 1 driver to never win a World Championship round, was afflicted by the most diabolical luck when there were championship points on offer.  Despite his frequent successes in non-Championship Formula 1 races and in a multitude of other formulae – including the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1966 – Amon had to be satisfied with a best of three second place finishes.  Fortunately, a sportsman and a gentleman to the last, he was.

Teo Fabi (I) 3 pole positions (1985 Germany; 1986 Austria, Italy)

It’s difficult to know quite what to make of Teo Fabi’s career in Formula 1, encompassing 71 Grands Prix in the mid-1980s.  Driving exclusively for some fairly competitive upper-midfield teams, he would only occasionally put his head above the parapet and make his presence felt.  His best finish – two third-places – is probably a fair reflection of events.  His three pole positions, meanwhile, came out of left field.  He planted a Toleman Hart at the front of the grid for the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring in 1985, a season dominated by Alain Prost’s McLaren and Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari.  In 1986, he used the rebranded Benetton’s enormously powerful turbocharged BMW engine to take pole at the season’s two fastest tracks, leading in the first race before his motor failed.  Mechanical problems also saw him have to start the latter from the pit lane.

Jean-Pierre Jarier (F) 3 pole positions (1975 Argentina, Brazil; 1978 Canada)

An enigma.  Occasionally fast beyond belief, Jarier was too often afflicted with less-than-competitive machinery and mechanical gremlins.  He created a sensation in 1975, qualifying on pole for the first two Grands Prix of the season in an unfancied Shadow Ford.  However, a mechanical fault saw him unable to take the start in the Argentine race, whilst in Brazil he led until the car again let him down.  Finally given a chance in top line equipment at the championship-winning Lotus team in 1978 following the death of Ronnie Peterson in Italy, Jarier repeated the trick, dominating the Canadian Grand Prix until his car failed.  His best finish was third place, achieved three times in a career of crazily fluctuating fortunes and a lot of smoke.

Stuart Lewis-Evans (GB) 2 pole postions (1957 Italy; 1958 Netherlands)

Lewis-Evans, a driver managed by Bernie Ecclestone, is now largely forgotten, superceded by a welter of successful British racing drivers.  This is a shame, as Lewis-Evans demonstrated in his 14 Grands Prix a great deal of skill and promise – enough, indeed, to suggest that his name could have easily joined that of Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill or John Surtees in the pantheon of English World Champions of the era.  Driving for Vanwall in 1958, Lewis-Evans achieved two podium finishes in third place – helping his team to the inaugural Constructor’s Cup – which would represent his best results.  His engine siezed up in the season-closing Moroccan Grand Prix, causing him to crash heavily.  He died from the burns he sustained six days later.

Eugenio Castellotti (I) one pole position (1955 Belgium)

The archetype flamboyant young Italian racing driver, Castellotti’s bravado endeared him to a generation of impressionable motor racing fans.  He had the talent to back up his bluster, though, finishing second in his second World Championship Grand Prix and taking pole for his third.  A further second place finish followed in France the following season.  He was killed when he was thrown clear of the Ferrari sports car he was testing at Monza early in 1957, aged just 26.

Andrea de Cesaris (I) one pole position (1982 Long Beach)

A countercultural legend of Formula 1 motor racing, de Cesaris achieved the majority of his notoriety thanks to his relentless crashing.  However, it must also be remembered that he was occasionally very, very quick.  Only bad luck prevented him from potentially winning in Belgium in 1983 and 1991, whilst he planted his Alfa Romeo on the front of the grid in California’s premier motor sport even at the beginning of the 1982 season.  In the race, however, he got held up by Raul Boesel’s lapped car whilst dicing for the lead with Niki Lauda’s McLaren.  Deciding to shake his gearchanging fist at the recalcitrant Boesel, Lauda easily slipped by on the straight.  His best result – 2 second places in the 1983 season – was not enough to save him from the ignimony of establishing the record for most Grand Prix starts without a race win: 208.

Nick Heidfeld (D) one pole position (2005 Europe)

Arriving in Formula 1 in 2000, a multiple champion in lower formulae and with backing from McLaren and Mercedes, much was expected of Heidfeld.  A dismal first season at the uncompetitive Prost team, though, saw much of the heat dissipate.  Settling into drives with Sauber, Jordan and Williams, Heidfeld has proven himself solid, quick and dependable without ever really showing the spark which might entice a top-line team to take a punt on running him.  Now back at Sauber in their new guise as BMW, Heidfeld has found himself in the most competitive machinery of his career and really must deliver quickly, as Andrea de Cesaris’ rather undesirable record is looming ever closer.  Heidfeld is already the proud owner of his own little piece of statistical history: his eight second places are the most runner-up spots ever achieved by a non-winning driver.

Mike Parkes (GB) one pole position (1966 Italy)

A talented engineer as well as a gifted driver, Parkes spent the majority of his short (7 Grands Prix) career at Ferrari.  However, his gifts as a spannerman were more richly prized than his driving by Enzo Ferrari and, in a time of unspeakable risk and danger, he was frequently passed over in favour of other drivers.  Nevertheless, he suffered a terrifying crash in the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix, from which he was fortunate to escape with just two broken legs, which ended his top line motor sport career.  He died in a road accident ten years later.

Tom Pryce (GB) one pole position (1975 Britain)

Pryce is often rightly cited as the one that got away.  A driver of enormous talent, his best of two third place finishes is more a reflection of his meagre equipment – Pryce spent his entire career save for one race with the midfield Shadow team – than his skill.  Still, despite the shortcomings of his cars, he was still able to exhibit enough of his huge natural ability to suggest he had the makings of a future Grand Prix great.  Sadly, it was not to be, as Pryce was killed in a brutal, freak accident at the 1977 South African Grand Prix, hitting a fire marshall who carelessly ran across Kyalami’s undulating pit straight in order to help Pryce’s stranded teammate Renzo Zorzi.

Wednesday’s FIA ruling on the legality of Toyota, Williams and Brawn GP’s double-decker diffusers has finally lifted a great fog from the brave new world that is Formula 1, 2009 style.  Grumbling though they may be, the onus is now on the other teams to rise to the technical challenge, which makes a refreshing change to anybody who has followed the sport for a number of years.  This, gentlemen, is what Formula 1 is supposed to be like.  However, in spite of their pathetic whinging, expect the majority of the pit lane to be fully double-deckered up very soon – by the opening of the European season in Spain at the very latest.  Indeed, both Renault and McLaren will be debuting their version of the concept this weekend in Shanghai which, given both teams’ less than spectacular opening two races is very much the least surprising thing that could have happened.

Perhaps more surprising are some of the decisions coming out of Maranello.  It’s the early 1990s all over again at Ferrari, with heads rolling and bodies being reshuffled around the factory in order to arrest the team’s meagre 2009 season.  15 years ago, when it seemed like the team had more or less forsaken winning on a matter of socialist principle, such affairs were common.  However, it’s rather odd to see it happening again, however inevitable it was.  Success in Formula 1 – as with the majority of team sports – works on a helix curve, so a dip from a Ferrari team who have rewritten the rulebook on Formula 1 dominance in the past decade was only to be expected.  Given that that run was built on a very un-Ferrari spell of stability, though, it will be interesting to see the effects of the rejig on the team’s fortunes.  Interesting, too, will be to see if a conservative strategy – Ferrari have neither a new diffuser ready for Shanghai, nor will they be using their troublesome KERS system this weekend – will be the way forward.  Either way, it has been most amusing to see Ferrari not getting their own way so far in 2009, especially in their favoured battleground at the FIA buildings, Place de Concorde, Paris.

With the diffuser verdict in and the teams still several weeks from being able to return back to their safe European home to scratch their heads and lick their wounds, it’s reasonable to expect more of the same in Shanghai.  The Brawn will remain the car to beat, with Rubens Barrichello no doubt keen to put one over on Jenson Button at a circuit where, in 2004, the Brazilian won the inaugural race for Ferrari.  Toyota, too, will be looking to make the most of their technological advantage whilst they can.  Williams will, I think, struggle in the race – their car is proving hard on its tyres over long runs and the compounds that Bridgestone are taking to Shanghai are on the entertainingly soft side.  Expect rubber to be a major talking point at some point this weekend.  McLaren and Renault will – if the protesting teams were right about the 0.5 second-per-lap advantage of the trick diffuser – see some improvements, too, but they’ll need more than just a half second to get back on terms.

Of the non-diffuser gang, I expect Red Bull to be the strongest competition.  I think that their rivals should be pretty worried about how fast the RB5 car will be once Adrian Newey has added an extra storey to the arse end, because they already have the makings of a fiercely competitive machine.  I would not rule Webber or particularly Sebastian Vettel out of the running for pole position or even a big score on race day.  BMW and Ferrari’s schizophrenic cars add an extra spice of the unknown into this oriental blend on a track where racing is not out of the question.  Here’s hoping for three out of three good races.

My ultimately risible China 2009 prediction:

Pole position: Button (Brawn GP)

Podium: 1st – Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP); 2nd – Jarno Trulli (Toyota); 3rd – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull).

There was a certain inevitibility to it, in the end.  Starting a race at 5 p.m. in a country with tropical weather systems was always going to end with everybody in the dark, metaphorically and otherwise.  Nevertheless, Formula 1’s first half points race since Ayrton Senna won a 14-lap Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide nearly 18 years ago, did not skimp on entertainment or interest.  It’s becoming clear that KERS is very much worth the weight penalty of running it on race day, whilst the ten teams and their drivers teased us yet further by still not revealing the true pecking order.

Well, nine of them did, as it is now pretty much confirmed that Brawn do indeed have the car to beat.  Jenson Button put in his very best Grand Prix drive yet – in a car which he had never driven before in wet conditions, a tribute both to him and the engineers – and duly scored his first F1 hattrick of win, pole and fastest lap.  What is less clear is who their closest rivals are.  BMW have looked to be nowhere two race weekends in a row, only to suddenly appear challenging for top honours towards the end.  Williams are very quick indeed but don’t seem to be able to keep it up consistently for a full race distance.  Ferrari, too, are showing signs of pace amidst the panicking.

As I thought would be the case in the build-up to Sepang, though, the current pick must surely be Toyota, who had another very strong race capped with a third and fourth-place finish.  The TF109 car is now apparently equipped with a triple-decker diffuser which obviously worked wonders for grip and stability in the changing conditions.  The FIA appeal hearing about the diffuser issue is on Tuesday week.  If, as I expect, the gadget is passed legal to race, every team will arrive in China with one the following Friday.  In fact, it could end up like a battle between razor manufacturers, with each successive team fitting more and more levels to their diffuser.  Six-storeys, for less irritation.

Toyota’s drivers, too, are clearly relishing their new car.  Timo Glock is coming on rapidly as a Grand Prix driver, showing a knack for making canny tactical calls and having the talent to translate them into results which is often the mark of the true top-line driver.  Jarno Trulli remains something of an enigma on race day, but there’s little doubting his speed in qualifying.  Something has got to give under this sort of pressure, and I don’t expect it will be too long before Toyota finally win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Who else will win one is a big question.  McLaren and Ferrari surely won’t remain in quite this much disarray all year, so they cannot be discounted.  At the moment, though, Brawn and Toyota’s big rivals are perhaps Red Bull.  Adrian Newey’s car is pretty well bolted to the floor – witness it’s grip in damp conditions yesterday – and in Sebastian Vettel has one of the quickest drivers around.  Their bad luck on Sundays can’t continue indefinitely.  Williams, too, are showing promise.  I believe their problem is related to tyre graining, which makes it hard for Rosberg to keep up the same pace throughout.  However, two races down and Williams have set one fastest lap and led one race until the first pit stops.  It’s a sure sign of a team moving in the right direction.

Ferrari’s direction is, from a historical viewpoint, reassuringly scattered.  After a boob in qualifying with Felipe Massa’s car, Räikkönen fitting rain tyres a full six minutes before any precipitation was eccentric to say the least.  Desperate, would be another way to describe it.  When you consider that Force India, now looking like they are firmly embroiled in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon again this year, were the only other team to replicate the gamble, it speaks volumes for Ferrari’s questionable competitiveness.

Ironically, given their relative one-lap pace, it is their great rivals McLaren who seem to have the edge on race day.  Their KERS system is clearly super-efficient and helping the drivers redress some of the grip-related problems they are suffering.  Or rather, he is suffering, as again in 2009 Lewis Hamilton finished lap 1 as Woking’s sole representative in the race.  Heikki Kovalainen needs to get some serious lappage under his belt quickly.

As for the remainder, Toro Rosso had another solid if unspectacular race, flirting on the fringes of the points when the race was stopped.  Lastly, Renault‘s plug-ugly car remains relentlessly off the pace, with Nelson Piquet still stubbornly off the pace of his teammate, even in spite of Fernando Alonso being laid low this weekend with an ear infection.  It’s hard to see Piquet lasting a full season at the team at his current level of competitiveness and it just may be the case that this knowledge itself is not helping his driving.

All this said, the difference between success and failure is still incredibly slim, with the field often separated by a couple of seconds only over a single lap.  It’s still all to play for, but it’ll be Brawn to beat in Shanghai.

With a bit of luck I’ll manage to crack out a more considered review of today’s semi-aquatic happenings in Sepang for you tomorrow.  Until then, you’ll have to make do with the moment you’ve all been dreading: the (albeit probably sporadic) return of list of the week.

This week: the twenty current Formula 1 drivers listed in order of when they last actually won a competitive motor race, from most to least recent.

1. Jenson Button 5th April 2009 (Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang)
2. Felipe Massa 2nd November 2008 (Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos)
3. Lewis Hamilton 19th October 2008 (Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai)
4. Fernando Alonso 12th October 2008 (Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, Fuji Speedway)
5. Sebastian Vettel 14th September 2008 (Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, Monza)
6. Heikki Kovalainen 3rd August 2008 (Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring)
7. Sebastien Buemi 3rd August 2008 (GP2 Series Hungaroring sprint race)
8. Robert Kubica 8th June 2008 (Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, Montréal)
9. Kimi Räikkönen 27th April 2008 (Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, Montmélo)
10. Sebastién Bourdais 11th November 2007 (Champ Car World Series Grand Prix of Mexico City, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez)
11. Timo Glock 30th September 2007 (GP2 Series Valencia sprint race, Circuit Ricardo Tormo)
12. Adrian Sutil 27th August 2006 (All-Japan Formula 3 Fuji Speedway race 2)
13. Nelson Piquet Jr 26th August 2006 (GP2 Series Istanbul feature race)
14. Kazuki Nakajima 30th April 2006 (Formula 3 Euroseries Lausitzring race 2)
15. Giancarlo Fisichella 19th March 2006 (Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang)
16. Nico Rosberg 30th September 2005 (GP2 Series Bahrain sprint race, Sakhir)
17. Rubens Barrichello 26th September 2004 (Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai)
18. Jarno Trulli 23rd May 2004 (Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix)
19. Mark Webber 30th June 2001 (International Formula 3000 Magny-Cours)
20. Nick Heidfeld 24th July 1999 (International Formula 3000 Spielberg (A1-Ring))

A fairly impressive bunch of results.  Eighteen drivers have troubled the trophy engravers within the past five years, nine of whom have done so in the last 12 months and twelve having won fully-fledged World Championship Grands Prix.  The lowliest win is probably that of Adrian Sutil in an All-Japan F3 race, which nevertheless contributed to a championship-winning season in a well-respected Formula 3 series.  Most notable for me is Nick Heidfeld, just a few months short of a full winless decade.  At which time this blog will start to call him exclusively by girls’ names.